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I was sitting in a couch studying at Starbucks the other evening. I noticed that there was a man sitting across from me who would stare at me with his mouth open until i looked up from my book and he would look away. I tried to ignore this strange behavior but when I glanced up the next time I noticed he was pleasuring himself through his pants while staring at me. I was horrified and scared. I grabbed my things and asked to talk to the manager of the Starbucks. I told her what was happening and that I didn’t feel safe to stay or to leave for fear that he’d follow me. She asked me to sit down and that she’d deal with it. I sat and a few moments later she brought me a calm tea and advised that I wait until he leaves to leave myself. This is a sadly accurate metaphor for the cultural response to street harassment: chamomile tea and changing your own behavior. I’d rather hollaback!
The other day I was at a local pub with my two best guy friends having a pint and enjoying each others company when this group of 6 guys at a table near by started cat calling me. It was really distracting and hard to simply ignore. They were talking loudly together about what I would be like in bed etc. They were certainly using me to try to provoke my guy friends. My friends could tell that I was upset but didn’t want to start a fight – so we left. I was really upset after not because my friends didn’t fight them but because there was nothing that I could do or say. I was upset because they treated me like an object and I felt like one.
I am a student at UMass Amherst and am now 21. I have been accosted on this street several times. This is pretty shocking considering how open minded, feminist, and family friendly this town is and considering the fact that this is the town center, where the town feels the safest. I have a few stories from the past couple years and thought I would share them in one post rather than a few.
I also want to point out that while some of these stories are about homeless men harassing me, this is not representative of most homeless men and women in this area. I have had friendly and respectful exchanges with people who are homeless in Amherst and the stories following are about the few who, despite their situation, were incredibly disrespectful to me as a woman and made me feel unsafe. This is not due to their circumstances. This is due to their behavior.
The first of these stories is from a few years ago. I was a freshman and on a bus to visit home. We stopped in Amherst Center and a man got on the bus and sat beside me. He smelled pretty terrible, but I didn’t want to be rude so I just breathed through my mouth and tried to be polite. I don’t know if he was homeless or what, but I figured he wasn’t dangerous, that I was safe in the front seat of a bus. He had some food with him (the smell of it wafted to me, it wasn’t my taste) and offered me some. I smiled and politely declined but thanked him for offering. A couple minutes later, I felt his hand snaking its way between my legs and up my thigh. I immediately tensed up and said (pretty loudly) “WHAT are you doing?” He stopped, took his hand back and got off at the next stop.
The second was a year later in my sophomore year. It was on Halloween night and I was on a date with a girl I liked. Some pretty hilarious things happened earlier in the night with guys yelling after me (in a harmless and nonsexual way) since I was dressed as Wonder Woman and running to catch a bus with my cape billowing out behind me. Some cars literally stopped and I heard things like, “GREAT SCOTT! IT’S WONDER WOMAN!” To which I would start laughing hysterically. The girl I was out with was dressed as Catwoman. We were holding hands near the end of the night and walking down the street toward her place. The streets were packed with drunk and happy college students as well as sober and serious (but slightly entertained) police officers keeping things safe. We were hand in hand and I was wary of those around us. Suddenly, a guy ran up beside us and matched our pace.
“Hey,” he said.
“Hi.” my date said.
“What are you girls up to?”
“Just walking” my date said and stared straight ahead.
“I like your costumes. I’m going to a thing in Central. Is that where you live? Central?”
We didn’t respond.
“Well, it’s a party. I mean, it should be fun. Do you two wanna come with me?”
“No thanks,” my date said, “I’m with her.”
“Ok, cool cool. So, what are you two gonna be up to? I’m (forgot the name) by the way. So, what are you two gonna be doing?”
By this point, we were trying to outwalk him.
“Just hanging out.” my date replied, walking faster.
He ran to keep up with us.
“You guys walk fast! So what building are you going to? In Central, right?” he said, losing his breath.
“We walk fast when we’re being bothered by someone and want to lose them.” one of us said (I can’t remember who).
The guy slowed down, saying, “What? but. Oh.”
I think he said something else, I don’t remember, but it freaked us both out a bit.
The third was on the same street. It was about one in the morning. the street was almost empty, it was a weekend, and it was very well lit. I was made-up and walking back from a party for the LGBT group on campus. Three guys walked behind me, about my age. They were talking among themselves, but I immediately became wary of their presence, seeing as there was almost no one else on the street. I was walking quickly with my head up, and did not face them once during the following encounter. I was very clearly trying to keep to myself. One of the guys ran up to me (Not cool to do that to a woman who is walking alone in the middle of the night).
“Hey” he said.
I didn’t reply or look at him. I kept walking and he matched my speed. He tried a few more times to grab my attention. I ignored him some more until he straight up asked me if I was angry.
“Yes.” I replied.
“Why?” he asked.
At this point, I was very nervous about the fact that there was one strange man next to me and two flanking me from behind on an empty street at one in the morning.
“I’m angry because I’m being bothered by someone when I just want to get back to my room.” I said, still not looking at him.
“I didn’t mean to bother you, I just think you’re very attractive and wanted to meet you.” he said in the most friendly tone he could manage.
“Great. I’m flattered, but I just want to walk alone. And frankly, I’m a little creeped out.”
“Because a man I don’t know is bothering me in the middle of the night when I’m walking alone. That’s why.”
“Oh! You don’t have to be nervous with me, I’m an RA, you can trust me.”
“Yeah, ok, just leave me alone. I’m not interested. I’m coming back from an lgbt dance. I’m not into guys. Sorry.”
” Oh yeah, that’s fine. I’m an RA, so I have residents who are gay or trans. I’m totally cool with it. Where are you headed?”
I didn’t respond.
“We’re headed up the hill to my apartment. Are you headed to Puffton?”
I stayed silent and kept walking.
“Sylvan? Do you live in Sylvan? That’s on our way, you know.”
I stayed quiet and walked faster.
“Hey! Where are you goi–”
I interrupted him and yelled, “Leave me the F**K alone.”
He put his hands up and backed off.
He went up the hill that I was supposed to go up. I had to take the long way to avoid him and his friends. Easily the scariest encounter.
The last was during the day. I was walking down the street and saw a man with a can out to collect change. I grabbed some change I had left and dropped it in and smiled at him. Most people in Amherst know or at least recognize the homeless men and women in town, so I wanted to be friendly. He leaned toward me and said something to the effect of, “What would I have to do for a date?” I rolled my eyes, made a grossed out face, said, “Gross” and walked off.
These things happened on North Pleasant Street, which goes through Amherst Center and into the UMass campus. It is normally pretty crowded with college, high school, middle school, and elementary school students as well as several local families. These incidents made me feel incredibly unsafe in this otherwise very friendly and small community. No one stepped in during any of these encounters. I was even driving down this street recently when I stopped at a light and a PVTA bus pulled up next to me. I looked up at the driver, I kind looking grey haired man, and smiled politely. He smirked and winked at me in a surprisingly sleazy way. I made a disgusted expression and he smiled wider, staring at me until the light changed. That still makes me really angry.
This story happened a couple months ago. I was walking home from a friends house in the dark. I live near a busy commercial street in an “artsy” neighborhood. As I got near the end of the street a guy – in his teens or twenties – started shouting at me, “hey baby girl” and “can I get your number” etc. I ignored it because he was on the other side of the street. Then he ran across the street and was walking behind me and I was really scared.
I didn’t know what to do and I saw a girl walk up to the corner, and I decided it didn’t matter who she was I was going to tell her this guy was following me and walk with her. It ended up being a girl that I am acquainted with, she told me to walk with her to the drug store which was out of my way but I followed. The guy was still talking to me and I said “you need to go away” “don’t talk to me” and she told him to leave us alone too.
We went inside the store and when we came out I didn’t see him anymore. I was still nervous so I called my friend and he rode his bike to meet me and walk the rest of the way home with me.
This I was walking around the same corner and in broad daylight a man was standing on his apartment balcony and shouting “hey baby” and I looked over and he was rubbing his penis under his shorts and waving at me. I didn’t even know what to do. I just walked away. I’m so disgusted.
I was riding the commuter rail on the way back from a function in Boston. I’ve taken the rail several times before and typically put my headphones in and write songs or poetry and put my purse or my legs on the rest of the seat to ensure my personal space. The day this happened, the train was very crowded and the only seats free were on the sideways seats, one row facing the other.
I was listening to music and writing a song in my notebook when I noticed a couple boys (about 18ish, maybe early 20s) staring at me. I tried to ignore them and write, but they kept staring. Finally, I heard one start shouting at me.
I ignored him.
“Hey! What are you writing. Hey! C’mon. Tell me.”
This continued a few more minutes. Not one man or woman on that train stepped in. I rolled my eyes and responded very calmly.
“I’m writing a song about castration. Why?”
The boys looked a bit shocked to say the least. I kept a straight face and stared them down until they lowered their eyes to the floor. I noticed a couple people around me smirking to themselves.
Needless to say, they didn’t bother me the rest of the train ride.
Also, for the record, the song I was writing was not about castration.
So ,umm something happened while I was on the bus yesterday around 8pm and I told one of my guy friends but I’m not able to talk about it to anyone else…and I haven’t got the guts to tell my parents. So here it goes: I was sitting in the bus like I do every day. This guy gets in and sits next to me but not directly. Like there’s a mini-passage between our seats (1 meter approx.). Halfway through the bus ride, I glance at the window and I could see his reflection (because it’s dark outside and there is light inside the bus). What I saw REALLY shocked me. This guy had his dick out and was MASTURBATING. Like really masturbating very openly. I never looked at him directly but I could see everything through the glass window. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I was scared he would cum on me or something plus I was VERY uncomfortable so I changed seats. One minute later, another woman comes and sits next to me traumatized. The f**king pervert got off the bus like 5 minutes after I realized what he was doing.
Now, I don’t want to scare my parents by telling them this story (I’m 21 but still). I thought it wasn’t a big deal (disturbing but no big deal) but I was wrong. Its been like 2 hours and I’m still a little bit shaken by this. I told my friend and asked me if I’m ok and everything but seriously WHO THE HELL does that!!
Thanks for listening. I didn’t know who else to turn to and I HAD to get it off my chest. <3
I’ve had long hair all my life, waist/hip length. Unfortunately, around when I turned into a teen it became a bit of a burden. Cat-callers would address me by my hair, calling me Blondie along with other lewd things. There’s been times where strangers, behind my back, have stroked my hair. Some from the top to the very ends (at my butt), then vanishing from sight. I used to think I was imagining things, until my friend who was shopping with me verified it.
On my sixteenth birthday (July 2006) at a restaurant in the Springfield,MA Marriott hotel, the manager came out and chatted up my mother and I. As he was doing this, he was also stroking my hair and said to me, unbeknownst to my mother, “men love long hair…” in my ear. He was a larger man in his 50’s. I wish I reported it. He still worked there as of the second incident described below.
A couple years later (July 2008) there was another incident at this same hotel, same restaurant, where a couple of older business men were asking my mother inappropriate questions. The waitstaff (men and a woman) witnessed this and did nothing, said nothing. We reported it to the front desk and my mother was in tears. The hotel security, a very nice woman, assured us she’d fix this. But she then said she couldn’t/didn’t because these men belonged to a company(unknown) that frequently puts its employees up at the hotel. They gave us the dinner free, threw in a couple of ice cream bars, and sent us back to our room. That’s when I realized how easy it is for people to get away with sexual harassment. Especially at this hotel. Ruined my birthday, twice.
I was walking to school, a car stopped,
the man inside told me: “Come here, I want to suck it”
(oral sex). I wanted to cry, but I was brave, and got far from there.
I was 13 years old.
Everyone says Holland is so liberal, so open-minded. Also that sexist harassment is nil here.
Combine Sexist with Racist. Happy Racists.
This happens to me where I live, once a week, but here’s a specific example:
I am on my bicycle on my way to the grocery store. Two teenage boys ride on either side and make mocking “ChingChong” noises.
And they stay there, riding alongside me.
I tell them to go away, (Racists!) – they say, in English, “We’re not racists.”
Yes, I am Asian. No, I am not from China, or of Chinese descent. No, even if I were from China this is not OK.
More often, it’s less but the same:
I am on an errand — someone bikes by and sing-songs “China!” and “NiHao!” at me, and they’re gone. Happy smiling racists.
It ruins my whole walk. It’s racist, and also sexist. Because racism is how they get sexist, and worse.
I left my apartment at about 5:50pm to walk my dog, and it was already pretty dark. Since she had been inside all day, I decided we could walk around to Long Meadow so she could get some exercise. As we started walking that way, a man on a bicycle rode past us from behind. When I turned because I heard him coming from behind me, he smiled and waved a bit, in what seemed like a “Sorry, wasn’t trying to startle you” kind of gesture. Okay, that’s fine. So we kept walking. As we walked a little bit, I noticed this same guy was now standing by the lake, playing with his phone, bike on the ground next to him. Hmm. We kept walking. He rode past us again. I ignored him this time, but he did make some kind of gesture. Then again, we passed him, this time sitting on a bench, playing with his phone. He smiled and waved a little as we passed. This pattern continued for about 20 minutes or so, 2 or 3 more times. He’d ride past, then wait for us to pass him. I was getting annoyed, so I just stopped for a while. He stopped, too, a short way ahead of us. So I started walking back in the opposite direction, but also toward a park exit. Of course, he followed. I walked outside the park, and as I did, warned a couple women that a man had been following me, and asked them to be careful. I decided to linger outside the park to see if he would try to follow them. He didn’t. He just parked his bike next to some exercise bars near the Vanderbilt St. exit, and stared at me while I called the police. He stayed there the entire time I was on the phone, alternating between pretending to “exercise,” playing on his phone, and staring at me. Of course, when the police arrived, he left.